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FROM THE 41ST FLOOR CONFERENCE ROOM AT THE TOP OF AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL Group headquarters near Wall Street, the morning fog is lifting over the East River bridges, bringing Manhattan and Brooklyn into full view. Robert Benmosche’s vision extends a good deal further.

In his three years at the helm of the giant insurer — dubbed “the most hated company in America”after its near-collapse triggered an unprecedented government bailout in 2008 — Benmosche has orchestrated arguably the greatest turnaround in corporate history. With a take-no-prisoners leadership style, he restored morale at the beleaguered company and convinced employees, clients and the government that AIG had a future. Benmosche then sold off more than two dozen businesses, shrinking AIG to roughly two thirds of its precrisis size and raising enough money to repay every penny of the $182.3 billion in federal aid it received and deliver $15.1 billion in profits to taxpayers. Today the company’s core life and general insurance businesses are operating profitably for the first time in years, and AIG looks set to return fully to the private sector within months.


Now Benmosche is looking to grow AIG again. His executives are employing the latest data and analytics to boost profits at the group’s property/casualty insurance arm and devising new products to help its life insurance and retirement services subsidiaries prosper in spite of today’s record-low interest rates. AIG’s transformation has already seized the attention of investors, who have made it the second most valuable insurer in the world behind China Life Insurance Co., and Benmosche is confident that the company will soon regain its longtime perch at the top of the industry.

“In another three years we will again be the largest insurance company in the world by market cap,” he tells Institutional Investor in a recent interview at his offices, surrounded by Chinese ceramics, statues and paintings that pay homage to AIG’s birth in Shanghai almost a century ago.

Less clear is whether Benmosche himself will be around to celebrate. Cancer treatment has melted pounds from his 6-foot-4 frame, turned his complexion florid and forced him to grow a beard because rashes have left his face too sensitive to shave. He declines to reveal what type of cancer he has because he doesn’t want the media speculating about how much time he has left. “It is a very aggressive cancer,” says the 68-year-old Benmosche (pronounced BEN-moh-SHAY), who disclosed his condition in October 2010 when the illness was first detected. “I’m not going to be cured. I know that the treatment will eventually stop working.”